Located strategically in the world’s coral triangle, Philippine promises various diving spots close to each other – compared to its much bigger neighbor, Indonesia.
Still, “It takes me one whole week to explore only one island,” said another diver from Germany.
Leaving Cebu City, I took a public bus to Maya – a tiny fishermen village on the northern tip of Cebu Island – and ride on a public boat to the famous Malapascua Island.
What’s the treat? The thresher shark!
Almost one hour boat ride from the island, the water looked surprisingly calm compared to its surrounding waves.
It is because, eight meters below, the sandy flat plateau welcomed us with its abundant soft and hard corals.
The corals and the fish life came with limited colors. However, the attraction began on the sharp edge of the plateau, and downward.
Colorful sponges, seafans and anemones decorated the nearly-flat wall where school of fusiliers swarm tight, blocking its view. With a flick of hand, the school vanished into the blue, exposing the wall residents.
Lobsters jutted their antennae out of the wall crevices while white mouthed morays warily watched for breakfast. Tiny critters – nudibranches, crinoids shrimp, and transparent anemone shrimp – were begged to be found by photographers’ lens.
Bigger seafans – sandwiched between the largest barrel sponges I have ever seen – were found in 20 meters depth.
Nobody knew how deep the wall was because with a normal visibility – for the Philippines – of about 25 meters, the bottom was invisible.
Sunken Island, Kallanggaman Island
After a relieving lunch on a sand bar of the tiny Kallanggaman island, our boat headed to the site – about 500 meters from the island’s white beach.
Eight meters below, another sandy flat plateau – nearly round – formed a sunken island. Quite similar to Nunez Shoal, white coarse sand covered the plateau with brownish and pinkish coral gardens attracting more fishes – more colorful – compared to those in Nunez Shoal.
The full sun above us and a perfect visibility on that day made the plateau too bright for a huge – about 80cm long – pink and grey scorpion fish found curling under a large acropora.
Few meters apart, a banded sea krait happily fed on small critters, somewhat undisturbed with us, even when we watched her very close.
The wall was surprisingly different to Nunez Shoal. Still flat, but there are a lot more ledges and crevices and they are home to even more morays, lobsters, lionfishes, and other wall dwellers with hundreds of anthias and glass fishes covering them.
Macro life was also abundant. Two mating nembrothas ignored our presence, showing their gills swaying by the mild sweeping current, while tiny crabs found in sea whips or on bejeweled tunicates.
Back on the plateau for safety stop, we were greeted by a couple of ribbon eels greedily opened their small mouths for food. Few meters apart, tens of garden eels jutted their heads and body from the sand and rubbles, creating an underwater dance concert.
The highlight of diving in Malapascua is their famous thresher shark and the perfect spot would be Monad Shoal.
Descending at 6 in the morning, with the sun light barely there and visibility decreasing to ten or fifteen meters, the water was dark and gloomy.
We passed a flat plateau completely covered with rubbles and headed directly to the tip of a wall that looked like a circular tribune. It was, indeed, a perfect spot for the tens of divers waiting for the shark.
After three or four minutes sitting motionlessly, from out of the deep blue, the long, silvery and bulky monster approached us.
She was at least 4 meters long with its tail covering 40 percent of its length. She flicked her ultra-long upper tail, swaying left and right like a flamenco dancer.
Ten or fifteen meters from us, she started to circle, flexing her body round as the small fishes – her breakfast – gathered in the center, panic, before ended up in the monster’s small mouth.
After looping three times, she finally swam closer to us, showing her muscular body and a pair of big eyes, before disappearing and leaving us amazed in disbelief.
The small islets were an extended cape jutting out of the water. Our divemaster told us that the site has good macro life. But, sliced from the main island by a narrow channel, we prepared for at least mild current.
The current was, indeed, crazy. We had to hold on to whatever solid rocks (presumably dead corals) to capture pictures of nudibranches littering the sea floor that – surprisingly – came in all possible hues and patterns.
A special credit goes to our local divemaster, Je-An , who – amidst the crazy current – could spot tiny critters.
Macro and strong current: challenging combination!
One of the few muck dive spot in Malapascua, Dakit-Dakit is a set of small rocks rising above the water in southwestern Malapascua, creating a narrow channel with demanding current.
Not deeper than fifteen meters, the dive was very straightforward: following the current that circles the biggest islet.
The sea floor was littered with healthy corals in monochromatic colors of light brown and pale pink. With such demanding current, it turned out to be a challenge to take pictures of the tiny critters hiding underneath these corals.
At least three of the biggest nudibranches I’ve seen – twice the length of my index fingers – proudly showed their neon green, red, orange and black colors, contrasting to the rather dull corals.
A rare nudibranch was found fleeing away from my lens to underneath the belly of a curling sea cucumber, turning the seconds to an escape drama.
This might not be the most critters-abundant muck diving I ever tried but if you want to challenge your photography skill in constantly racing water, this site is a must try.
The night dive in front of the lighthouse, west Malapascua, is mostly to find mandarin fishes mating.
The murky water in that sunset had us descended following a buoy line leading to a bommie where the skittish fishes would come out of their all-day hiding.
Only few minutes after the water went completely dark, our guide signaled us for two small shadows peeked out of the bommie.
With the only torch lights from our guide (we weren’t permitted to turn on ours) projecting to the water – instead of the fishes – our camera had difficulties finding the focus.
Luckily, there were enough mandarin fishes for all four divers that night that I had my own mandarin fish couple to play around with.
In a short period of camera flash, mandarin fishes, indeed, looked very handsome with their striking red, orange, and green in blue palette.
They were also very playful yet shy when approached by divers. Waiting for a few minutes in the most comfortable still position was a good option to ensure they weren’t distracted.
Thirty minutes laying still seven meters deep watching these fishes play hide and seek left us plenty of air to find other night critters. Sea horses, nudibranches, flatworms were on the menu of the night dive.
However, the most amazing critters can be seen from above the water, once we returned to the boat.
As soon as the lights on the boat were turned off, millions of tiny planktons were littering the water with their glittering color in all possible shades, turning the shallow water glowing like the star-studded sky above.
It was a very heavenly night. It was a very rewarding dive trip.